The other night, after finally getting both kids to sleep, David and I sat down to watch a movie. It was some kind of action thriller type thing, with some quiet dialogue scenes but also some really loud action scenes. The kids were asleep upstairs and usually we can watch whatever we want and it doesn’t wake them up, but the sound mixing was bad in this one and if we had the volume up high enough to hear the dialogue, the action scenes would end up extremely loud. So I had the remote and I would turn down the volume whenever a loud scene came on. As we watched I realized that I was actually able – with about 95% accuracy – to turn down the volume before the loud scene came on.
Because I knew what was going to happen. And that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Sometimes movies or books get criticized as being “predictable” – and it’s often leveled as one of the worst things a story could be. With good reason: if you can guess the main plot points and the ending after watching just a few minutes of a movie or reading a few pages of a book, what’s the point in watching or reading? Half the joy of a story is the surprise, the mystery of what’s going to happen next, how the storyteller is going to work this all out.
Yet, consider the other extreme: a story where you have no idea what’s going to happen, either in the ultimate plot or scene to scene. The first thing that comes to mind is David Lynch, Mullholland drive or Inland Empire era. They are so scattered and random that each scene feels like an assault. The viewer has no idea what to expect, and so is thrown about from here to there, adrift on a sea of bizarre and unexplainable images. Now don’t get me wrong, I kind of love David Lynch. The bizarre images are thought-provoking, there are interesting themes and startling ideas, powerful juxtapositions and a mood that sinks into your skin and stays with you for days. But here’s the thing, it’s not a story. Continue reading